Erin Miller has mastered the art of unlocking millennials’ core memories.
Miller, 33, has grown a following of more than 1.7 million people on TikTok by posting videos re-creating relatable — sometimes cringeworthy — moments they may have also experienced in the late ’90s and the early 2000s.
Like frying her bangs with a flatiron ahead of a garage party — because that was the cool hairstyle at the time (and no one knew any better). Or asking classmates to sign her plain white T-shirts with a sharpie on the last day of middle school (Miller’s caption on the video reads, “Who else remembers this?”).
Tapping into that millennial nostalgia has become the way Miller and many other creators with similar throwback content pay their bills.
Nostalgia sells, according to some marketing experts. And brands know that partnering with such creators, who have specifically built their followings around nostalgia content, can help them get more exposure from a desired demographic.
“It’s a psychological thing. You feel comfort when you go back in time,” Lisa Sciulli, a marketing professor and the department chair at the Eberly School of Business at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said of nostalgia-related marketing. “You reminisce about when times were simpler.”
Miller shared a similar perspective, saying she and her audience know there is “something so comforting about nostalgia.”
“There are so many universal experiences that we didn’t realize we were all experiencing,” she said.
For example, Miller said, “everyone has a horror story of their first period.” That’s why it was easy for her to create content for Tampax, whose products Miller grew up using.
In the video Miller posted as part of her brand deal with Tampax, Miller portrays her mom teaching her how to use a tampon for the first time. “Mom, I think I’m dying! There’s blood down there!” she exclaims as her 2002 self. “Honey, you’ve started your period,” the bespectacled version of her mother calmly explains.
It’s no surprise that nostalgia content has become so popular — as the age-old saying goes, everything old becomes new again. Y2K fashion, which once made millennials cringe, is now a major influence on Gen Z’s style and broader culture at large. Items like bucket hats, babydoll T-shirts and the controversial low-rise jeans have all had resurgences among younger consumers in recent years. That has led to a boom in thrifting among younger generations.
Some brands are even bringing back discontinued items and teaming up with nostalgia creators to do so.
Pop-Tarts, a Kellogg’s brand, teamed up with nostalgia creator Jenna Barclay this year to promote the re-release of the Frosted Grape Pop-Tart flavor, which had been discontinued.
By reinventing your product again, in a nostalgic way, it shifts your product life cycle and extends your brand.
-Lisa Sciulli, Eberly School of Business at Indiana University of Pennsylvania
“By reinventing your product again, in a nostalgic way, it shifts your product life cycle and extends your brand,” said Sciulli of Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Other brands try to jump on the nostalgia trend, even if they didn’t exist during the period many people are nostalgic about.
For example, Nancy Putignano, a nostalgia creator with more than 232,000 followers on TikTok, recently partnered with Poshmark, an e-commerce platform founded in 2011.
Putignano, 35, said being able to make money while connecting with other millennials has been mind-blowing.
“When I started, I didn’t think I would ever have such a big following,” she said. Now, “people reach out to work with me, and it’s really nice.”
It’s a win for brands, as well, especially because millennials are a highly engaged audience, said Mae Karwowski, the founder and CEO of the influencer marketing agency Obvious.ly.
Nostalgia content feels authentic and plays to shared experiences, which helps it perform well with Gen Z and millennials alike, Karwowski said.
“It’s a safe way [of marketing] while also creating really fun content that makes your brand relevant again,” Karwowski said.
Sometimes, the millennial nostalgia leads to partnerships with celebrities, too.
In one video, Miller collaborated with the singer and 2000s heartthrob Jesse McCartney to promote his U.S. tour.
In another, she danced with the 1990s icon and former N’SYNC member Lance Bass. The video, however, they made just for fun.